It’s almost fitting that Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, begins this movie with his usual warnings about man toying with dino DNA. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted his classic line: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” That statement sadly applies to Fallen Kingdom, the Jurassic World sequel about not learning from previous mistakes that unfortunately still hasn’t learned from Jurassic Park’s muddled legacy.
It’s frustrating that this follow-up approaches the continuing story in an unsure daze of trying to find something to do after the dinosaur-park massacre. Governments would be worried if not for the coming of a volcano on the Jurassic island to wipe the slate clean; two forces don’t want that to happen. One is an activist group that wants to save the dinosaurs. The other is a tycoon who wants to sell them. That’s a big enough can of worms for a movie, but the balance is thrown off when the script decides to flip open a few more lids with the labels of the Amblin and Jurassic Park brands.
Our heroes return for this dilemma on the future of prehistoric creatures, but there’s no time to become reoriented with them—not when there’s an explosion of lava in the background! Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as Owen Grady and Claire Dearing, currently on a break in their relationship. Maybe a frantic flight from a dinosaur stampede on a secret rescue mission will rekindle their flame. It’ll have to do, as there won’t be much time for bickering and bonding on this trip. It’s no wonder that Owen has a far better relationship with his raptor pal Blue, considering the feisty creature shares more tender moments with him than Claire does and has a better-defined background.
More side characters join the adventure to either run from the giant beasts or become their breakfast. Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) is a nerdy intern fulfilling the screamer quota, and Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) fulfills the “strong girl” factor as a former marine turned dino doctor. There’s a sunglasses-wearing headhunter played by Ted Levine who has a hobby of collecting teeth he extracts from living dinosaurs. (You can probably guess his fate.) And there’s a side plot involving a former associate of Jurassic Park’s former founder who dabbles in a cloning scheme, which leads to one twist too many.
But that’s all the human stuff. What about what every kid wants out of these films? Yes, you do get plenty of dinosaur action, many of those sequences presented with visual flair. One of the most impressive scenes features Claire and Franklin trying to escape a pursuing dinosaur in a control room flooding with lava. Another highlight is an experimental raptor that’s smart enough to pull the horror-movie move of slowly extending a claw to a little girl cowering in her bed.
There’s so much of this prehistoric flash, however, that some of the wonders get lost in frantic pacing. The first Jurassic World created exciting anticipation by building up the dinosaurs as wondrous and beautiful before the rampage begins. The violence starts early this time around, and I could hardly feel anything when a towering dinosaur sorrowfully succumbed to fire. Wish I got to know him or at least see him with the same love as the dino-loving protagonists.
Perhaps the film blows its wad too early with the quick escalation of the more straightforward island escape and slogging into the muddled affairs of the proceeding dinosaur auction. There’s so little time in this two-hour film to let anything develop naturally that Doctor Wu (BD Wong) appears too distant as the real villain of the series and Dr. Malcolm is reduced to a role so minor he doesn’t get up from his chair.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom does fulfill the base requirements one would want out of this series on a popcorn blockbuster level. You’ll get a cavalcade of various dinosaurs, many of which will munch on humans or duke it out with each other in battles of teeth, claws, and horns. There are nasty villains who bite off more than they can chew before they themselves are chewed. There are plenty of striking shots in which the scene-stealing creatures will pose and roar for the camera. And I must admit that Michael Giacchino’s music score has a delightful throwback aspect, all the better for embodying the terror of old adventure film serials. But there’s so little room to breathe that the film ultimately suffocates under its own spectacles, and even Chris Pratt’s easy charisma struggles to stick in a muddy story too busy and convoluted. The tagline for Fallen Kingdom is a revision of the previous film, swapping “The park is open” for “The park is gone.” How I miss those quainter days of the park.